Tuesday, September 01, 2009
West of Lake Michigan - Part I
I once was a princess who lived in a castle. Okay, maybe I didn’t really live there—as in ‘sleeping over’—but my dad owned it and I put in plenty of daytime hours to call it mine. This castle had a name, The Ivanhoe Restaurant--but it was actually more along the lines of a nightclub.
Not only did the outside look like a stone fortress but the inside had a cool draw bridge right next to the coat check, where I spent a lot of time rifling through top coats and women's furs. I never took anything, I was just very curious about what they had on them.
Patrons ate in Sherwood Forest and stirred their drinks with skeleton swizzle sticks. Near the woman’s bathroom were funny carnival-like mirrors that made you look oddly shaped, or at the very least—horrifically deformed. There was an indoor waterfall and three bars for your drinking pleasure in the cellar. Everywhere ghosts in full amour stood watch.
There also was an actual Catacombs designed to scare the vitamin C out of anyone who was brave enough to even try making it from one end of the dungeon to the other. Chains rattled on the walls and puffs of air mysteriously shot up from the floor. Once the patron exited from this chamber there were three bars with liquor awaiting them to help quiet their frayed nerves. Dad thought of everything. Sometimes I even got myself a shot glass filled with 7Up to quiet my nerves or sage my thirst.
I also liked to work my way through the maze of hallways on the second color until I found the stairs that took me up to the roof. I’d stand up there, next to the flag, and wave at cars and yelling at passerby’s that my dad owned this place. I knew I was special. I was lucky. Therefore I let everyone know. My favorite spot of all was the outside garden which had another waterfall and stream where gorgeous painted fish swam. I fed them raw shrimp. I fed myself raw shrimp too.
During the reign of my princesshood, I went to pre-school and one day, for no particular reason, colored on a girl's sweater. She was wearing it at the time so I got into big trouble. The teacher grabbed the crayon from my small, artistic hand and then screamed into my face after which she tossed the crayon across the room to show she was not only mad but really, really mad. I went home at the end of the day and told Mother I no longer cared to attend Blue Bird Nursery School and to take me out. She did.
The next fall I attended kindergarten at The Harris School of Chicago. Mother kissed me on the cheek before she left me on that first day of school and made me princess promise not to color on anyone's clothes because quitting school from here on out was strictly forbidden. I princess promised to be good. Princesses always keep their word. It’s the mark of a true princess.
Our teacher had a perfectly delightful name. Mrs. Rounds sat in a rocking chair to read us stories. Good ones. She always was in a good mood and had a very soft voice which I found most soothing. In the room, long tables were placed along the tall windows where the other students and myself would sit to do our workbooks, identifying the different objects from the rest. A row of ducks and a kitten. I circled the kitten. And then colored him.
Then we all sang Uncle Remus songs before going back home on the yellow school bus.
First grade was another year of extreme happiness. I had a school best friend named Becky and then a neighborhood best friend named Monica. She wore the most beautiful miniature bridal dress the day of her first communion. It turned me green with envy; not the communion but the dress. I remember standing on the sidewalk in front of my house on the day she returned from church. I watched her run up the steps to her place wearing that perfectly lovely dress and a glorious veil.
Second grade was my happiest of years. The sun still streamed in through those big tall second grade classroom windows even on rainy days. One day we were to write a story about our family pet. I didn’t know how to spell Chihuahua and my teacher said she didn’t know how to spell it either. She took me up to the huge dictionary kept on a podium at the front of the room because it was a very important book. We looked through the dictionary and learned how to spell it together, Teacher and me. Every afternoon we took turns at the backboard learning how to write cursive letters. My days were quite pleasant. After all I was a princess and this is how princesses spent their days.
On weekends I returned to my castle to eat caviar in Sherwood Forest, use all the bathrooms in the place just because I could, look at myself in the silly carnival mirrors and made sure I stayed away from The Catacombs.
Let’s not forget those wonderful Steiff stuffed animals and dolls from around the world on sale at the castle too. The Ivanhoe perfume was sold there as well, and it smelled like old lady’s perfume. Ahhhh! One evening I picked out a doll I wanted. Dad promised he’d bring it home to me after the nightclub closed. I will never forget that night. Hours later my Dad came home beaten and bloodied. Soon the police became involved and the situation became headlines for the Chicago papers.